Police in central Japan have arrested three people for taking part in pranks at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant.
The acts, which appear to be becoming more commonplace, have been dubbed online as “#sushitero” or “#sushiterrorism” and have affected the financial fortunes of the country’s famous rotating kaiten-style restaurants.
Various perpetrators have been filming themselves licking shared soy sauce bottles or touching plates of food coming down conveyor belts, before sharing the videos on social media.
Kura Sushi, one of the chains affected, said the three had taken part in “extremely malicious nuisance” at its restaurant in the city of Nagoya on February 3.
“We hope that the recent arrests will allow the public to recognize that actions which undermine our trust-based structure for our customers is a ‘crime,’” it said in a Wednesday statement.
“Our company will continue to strive to further improve the system to prevent such nuisances so that customers can enjoy their meals safely and comfortably. We will continue to do our best to … grow the conveyor belt sushi culture that is dear to Japan globally.”
According to public broadcaster NHK, police arrested a 21-year-old and two teenagers on suspicion of obstructing the restaurant’s operations. The 21-year-old had allegedly put his mouth on the spout of a soy sauce dispenser, it reported.
Besides Kura Sushi, two other kaiten chains — Sushiro, owned by Food & Life Companies, and Hamazushi — previously told CNN they had suffered similar disruptions. Each had filed a police report.
Japan has been dealing with this phenomenon as far back as 2013. But the most recent spate of “sushitero” coincided with a rise in Covid-19 infections, which has made people more hygiene conscious.
In recent weeks, some Japanese social media users have even started to question whether conveyor belt sushi restaurants have a future in the country as consumers demand more attention to cleanliness.
The kaiten chains have since made a number of changes to ease concerns and protect their businesses.
Sushiro stopped serving unordered food on conveyor belts altogether. Kura Sushi said it would use AI-operated cameras to monitor customers to see if they’re misbehaving.
— CNN’s Emiko Jozuka and Michelle Toh contributed reporting.